Three women made complaints through official channels about sexual assault allegations against a nurse at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement jail in Georgia, according to government documents and a spokesperson for CoreCivic, the private prison company that operates the Stewart Detention Center.
Two of the internal complaints, one in late December 2021 and one in January 2022, were revealed last week in a letter alleging sexual misconduct by the nurse made to the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, or CRCL, at the Department of Homeland Security, ICE’s parent agency. The letter was first reported by The Intercept. Two other women who did not file internal complaints also came forward in the letter, meaning that with the revelation of the third internal complaint, a total of at least five women have made sexual assault allegations against the nurse at Stewart.
“These allegations are part of a systemic problem. ICE detention fosters mistreatment and abuse.”
The documents and interviews also demonstrate that CoreCivic gave at times incorrect information to news organizations.
“Whether it was two or three or five reports that they want to acknowledge, it is far too many to ignore,” said Erin Argueta, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the groups that organized the letter to CRCL. “This is not an isolated incident, and these allegations are part of a systemic problem. ICE detention fosters mistreatment and abuse. We join the survivors in demanding a thorough investigation and swift action to protect immigrants from further harm.”
The new complaint became apparent when testimony in the letter to CRCL, medical records, and an internal CRCL database obtained by The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act request did not line up. The third official complaint was then confirmed by CoreCivic when The Intercept requested comment. The database, which lists complaints related to Stewart and includes Prison Rape Elimination Act complaints, listed two allegations of sexual assault against medical staff at Stewart.
With the letter of allegations from the Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups looming earlier this month, The Intercept asked CoreCivic about the two complaints about the nurse through official channels. A spokesperson for the company acknowledged the two official complaints and said they had been investigated and closed: The company’s probes found one complaint to be “unsubstantiated” and another “unfounded.” The spokesperson added that the nurse had “no prior allegations.” That turned out not to be true.
In response to questions by The Intercept about the new revelations, the CoreCivic spokesperson confirmed that one of the internal reports took place in late December, before the two complaints that the company had initially confirmed. “As we continued to review the matter, we found one additional complaint made on a separate occasion.” The spokesperson added that CoreCovic’s investigation also found the additional complaint to be “unsubstantiated.” In a phone call, the CoreCivic spokesperson confirmed that all three complaints were against the same nurse, whose identity, nursing license, and employment at the facility were previously confirmed by The Intercept.
Though only the two January complaints were listed in the CRCL database, another woman’s CoreCivic medical records, which were reviewed by The Intercept, show that there was a previous complaint, originally reported on December 31. That woman, identified in the letter to CRCL as Maria Doe and whose name The Intercept is withholding to protect her privacy, spoke with The Intercept earlier this month but did not realize that her complaint was not listed in the CRCL database. Her internal complaint was confirmed by medical records and in an interview.
In the email to The Intercept, CoreCivic said it followed all of its protocols in response to the December complaint. The company did not elaborate on why the complaint never appeared in the CRCL database and referred the matter to ICE and the Department of Homeland Security.
In addition to the incorrect information provided to news media by CoreCivic, a statement by ICE appeared to contradict CoreCivic’s statements, suggesting that there may have been other internal reports against the nurse.
The day after The Intercept published its investigation into Stewart, ICE sent a statement to CNN saying that its administrative investigation into the initial allegations determined they were unsubstantiated but that “two allegations remain under investigation.” ICE did not clarify which two allegations remain under investigation and declined to comment further to The Intercept. The CoreCivic spokesperson, responding to questions about the discrepancy between the company’s own and ICE’s statements, told The Intercept they did not know what allegations ICE is investigating.
There is no evidence to suggest that the ongoing ICE investigations are related to the nurse. ICE’s national detention standards, which apply to private contractors, say that when a staff member is suspected of sexual assault, they “shall be removed from all duties requiring detainee contact pending the outcome of the investigation.” The nurse has continued to give medical attention to women at Stewart as recently as July 2, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which reviewed medical records for that date. There are no public allegations of misconduct related to the July 2 medical records. (Neither CoreCivic nor ICE responded to follow-up questions from The Intercept on whether the nurse has been placed on leave during ICE’s ongoing investigations.)
Public records and reporting by The Intercept indicate that there were at least 11 sexual assault complaints against staff at Stewart from May 2021 to May 2022. With at least five of those allegations against the nurse, The Intercept has been unable to specify how many, if any, of the remaining six allegations were against medical staff at Stewart.